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Zieger v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

July 31, 2018

ROBERT W. ZIEGER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          BLACK, JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAREN L. LITKOVITZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying plaintiffs applications for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI). This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs Statement of Errors (Doc. 10), the Commissioner's response in opposition (Doc. 16), and plaintiffs reply memorandum (Doc. 17).

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI in January 2014 alleging disability since November 19, 2013, due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), major joint disorder of the knee, affective disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning. After initial administrative denials of his claim, plaintiff was afforded a de novo hearing before administrative law judge (ALJ) Peter Jamison on April 8, 2016. On July 21, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiffs DIB and SSI applications. Plaintiffs request for review by the Appeals Council was denied, making the decision of the ALJ the final administrative decision of the Commissioner.

         II. Analysis

         A. Legal Framework for Disability Determinations

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must suffer from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) (DIB), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (SSI). The impairment must render the claimant unable to engage in the work previously performed or in any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         Regulations promulgated by the Commissioner establish a five-step sequential evaluation process for disability determinations:

1) If the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
2) If the claimant does not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment - i.e., an impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities - the claimant is not disabled.
3) If the claimant has a severe impairment(s) that meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the regulations and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
4) If the claimant's impairment does not prevent him or her from doing his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled.
5) If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant is disabled.

Robbers v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec, 582 F.3d 647, 652 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i) -(v), 404.1520(b)-(g)). The claimant has the burden of proof at the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. Id; Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 378 F.3d 541, 548 (6th Cir. 2004). Once the claimant establishes a prima facie case by showing an inability to perform the relevant previous employment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other substantial gainful employment and that such employment exists in the national economy. Robbers, 582 F.3d at 652; Harmon v. Apfel, 168 F.3d 289, 291 (6th Cir. 1999).

         B. The Administrative Law Judge's Findings

         The ALJ applied the sequential evaluation process and made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The [plaintiff] meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016.
2. The [plaintiff] has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 19, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The [plaintiff] has the following severe impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a major joint disorder of the knee, an affective disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning (20 CFR 404 1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The [plaintiff] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 404 1526 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the [AU] finds that the [plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except: occasionally lift/carry 20 pounds and frequently lift/carry 10 pounds; push/pull as much as can lift/carry; sit for 6 hours, walk for 6 hours, and stand for 6 hours; operate foot controls with the right lower extremity occasionally; occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; never kneel, crouch, or crawl; avoid all exposure to unprotected heights and hazardous moving mechanical parts; avoid concentrated exposure to dust, odors, fumes, and pulmonary irritants; avoid all exposure to humidity and wetness, extreme cold, and vibration; limited to performing simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, but not at a production rate pace (e.g., assembly line work); limited to simple work-related decisions; limited to tolerating few changes in a routine work setting defined as no more than ordinary and routine changes in the work setting and duties.
6. The [plaintiff] is unable to perform past relevant work (20 CFR 404 1565 and 416.965).[1]
7. The [plaintiff] was born [in] ... 1965 and was 48 years old, which is defined as "younger individual age 18-49," on the alleged disability onset date. The [plaintiff] subsequently changed age category to "closely approaching advanced age" as of October 16, 2015, which was the day ...

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